Hail, Caesar! - This Coen Movie Rocks In A Would That It Twere So Simple Way
Dir: Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinto, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand, Christopher Lambert, the voice of Michael Gambon
Hail, Caesar! – or, “Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ” to give it its full film-within-a-film title (“Divine presence to be shot”) – is the Coens in playful mode. And, even then, more Burn After Reading than Raising Arizona, more Hudsucker Proxy that Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
But the Coens even at their most scattershot and silly is still a great thing to behold.
Almost going for the antithesis of their previous much darker look at the process of filmmaking in Barton Fink (and yes, Wallace Beery gets a mention), Caesar is a joyful homage to Hollywood, moving from the sword and sandals religious picture of the title, taking time to pass through Busby Berkley-esque synchronised swimming numbers, to Channing Tatum and his joyous – and just a little gay – sailors on leave, On The Town/Anchors Aweigh style (but resolutely with “No Dames”) song and dance – brilliant song, brilliant dance.
As lovingly as the Brothers’ pastiches are staged, so too their characters step out of both a screen and a different era. Clooney provides his splendid buffoon for them once more, this time as a none too bright movie star who spends the whole movie in a leather skirt and an awkward sword, Brolin is all hard boiled noir as fast talking, fast thinking studio fixer Eddie Mannix, and Swinton delights as not one but two rival twin sister gossip columnists, both with a thing for a nice fascinator. Rounding out the cast are brief turns from Jonah Hill, Tatum, as mentioned, doing his finest Gene Kelly, Ralph Fiennes once again getting to stretch his comedy muscle as Brit director Laurence Laurentz (as in “Laurence Laurentz Presents”) and a splendid Johansson, channelling her inner Bronx. Plus, necomer Ehrenreich all but stealing the show as a singing cowboy.
If all that makes it sound like a film of bits and pieces rather than a coherent whole, then that’s accurate, for Hail, Caesar! does have a habit of careening from one bit to another, literally stopping for a production number – why? Because they want to. And, more importantly, because they can.
It never quite hits full screwball, but that feels like a choice, although there’s more than one Preston Sturges moment.
It’s by no means up there with the best of the Coens, but with such regular features as a typically great score by Carter Burwell, Roger Deakins making it all look so beautiful, and fine editing from a certain Roderick Jaynes (ahem!) this is slight, but mighty fine.
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